Santa Fe Living Treasures – Elder Stories

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Helen Cordero



Honored May, 1985

Helen Cordero

When Cochiti Pueblo potter Helen Cordero reached her forties, she found herself dissatisfied with her work. She couldn't understand why her "pots never turned out too good."

At a relative's suggestion, she began making clay figures instead of the traditional pots. Those early figures of the 1960s evolved into the now familiar storyteller doll, the grandfather figure, who, with open mouth, sits with his grandchildren perched on him as they listen to his stories.

The storyteller is Helen's representation of her grandfather. "He was a very old man," she remembered. "He used to tell us all stories, and he'd put us on his lap or wherever we could sit. He was a great storyteller."

Born in 1915, Helen lived all her life at Cochiti Pueblo, adhering to her traditional way of life heedless of the fame and fortune that came her way. She continued to dig her own white clay, to prepare her natural red and black pigments, and to work outdoors in warm weather and at her kitchen table in the winter. Her husband and son drove one hundred miles to bring home the cedar wood she used to fire her pieces, covered with cow manure, on an open iron grate behind her house.